the weblog of Alan Knox

Solo or Orchestra?

Posted by on Dec 23, 2009 in blog links, discipleship | 2 comments

Andy at “aBowden Blog” has written an excellent parable across two posts called “2nd fiddle,” “2nd fiddle cont,” and “2nd fiddle, concluded.” Here is the story in its entirety (published with Andy’s permission):

Once upon a time there was a Grand Musician who loved music. He decided to assemble a group of unlikely characters together, give them each an instrument, and let them together learn to make music. So they met regularly, helping one another keep their instruments in tune, and learning to play as they together made music. Every week they met, each bringing his own particular instrument: trumpets, bugles, drums, pianos, clarinets, oboes, french horns, flutes, guitars, violins, and many others.

After making such wonderful music together, they would leave, still humming the tunes, and letting the music spill over into each day of the week.

Eventually, the fiddle became the most valued instrument of the assembly. The band continued assembling, but forgot that they were there to make music. They became confused and thought they gathered to hear the violinist perform. Oh, what beautiful solos the fiddler gave, playing classics, writing new pieces, arranging medlies. The other musicians, in fact, forgot that they themselves were musicians. Their various instruments went unused, gathered dust, and became idle.

They developed a fine appreciation for the fiddle. After hearing his performance weekly, they would discuss his strengths and weaknesses. They knew of the emotion and passion possessed by a good fiddler. Fiddlers appeared in many places. The really good ones were listened to worldwide, and filmed and traveled and wrote books. Whole theories and styles and methods were developed for the fiddle. Fiddlers became so good and professional, that now the rest of the musicians were forgotten. The thought of not hearing weekly fiddle solos was unthinkable. How could corporate participation compare to the beauty and grace heard by the one? Surely, if all the musicians were involved, the weaker, less trained instrumentalists would detract from what they were so accustomed to in the fiddler.

And so, the fiddling continued. Deep down in the heart of each observer, however, was a longing to make music. They could not quite describe this desire, implanted in them by the Grand Musician, to contribute a piece to the melody.

The forgotten musicians reacted in different ways. Some actually liked being able to watch the fiddler. Watching took the pressure off themselves. They could sit back and enjoy the simplicity; no expectations, no responsibility, no challenge to their own skill.

Other musicians could not shake the longing in their souls to make music. And this led to a very surprising turn of events. They knew that the only music people tolerated was the sound of the fiddle. Wanting to contribute to the music because of the Grand Musician, they did what it was only possible for them to do. They picked up the fiddle, a foreign, awkward instrument, thereby receiving their passport to participation, their license to make music. And so a great number of the oboe players, the guitarists, the pianists, the trumpeters, the banjoers, became fiddlers. Their own instruments remained at home, forgotten in the dusty corners of their closets. And they managed to learn the fiddle alright. In fact, many could really learn to play quite nice.

So fiddlers appeared everywhere. In the South (where people appreciated a good fiddle more than other parts of the country) there was an overabundance of fiddlers. Fiddlers played on every street corner. Fiddlers played for great crowds and small crowds. Fiddlers played most days of the week. When the fiddlers weren’t fiddling, they wrote about fiddling, tuned their fiddles, and drew pictures of them. Most music halls employed several fiddlers. There was the main fiddler, and then the second fiddler, and the third fiddler, and the fiddler who played for teenagers, and the fiddler for children.

(This conclusion will be a very loose paraphrase/analagy of 1 Cor 12-14).

But the solution to their musical inklings was not to be found in becoming a guild of fiddlers. The solution was found in the Grand Musician’s original instructions for the band. And here’s what He said:

Now, about the band, I don’t want you to be ignorant…
To each one an instrument is given for the common good,
To one the banjo,
To one the organ,
To one the piano,
To one the guitar,
To one the flute,
and to one the fiddle.

All of these originate from the one Grand Musician, who gives to each the instrument according to His own plan.

So you are a band, made up of many instruments, and though the instruments are many, they form one band.

Now, the band is not made up of one instrument, but many. If everyone were a fiddler, where would the music be? The piano can’t say to the oboe, “I don’t need you.” The guitar can’t say to the harmonica, “You don’t belong!” And if the clarinet should say, “Because I’m not a fiddle, I don’t belong to the band,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part.

But in fact, the Grand Musician has arranged the members of the band, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the music be? As it is, there are many instruments, but one band. Those instruments that seem to be weaker are indespensible. The Grand Musician has combined the instruments of the band and given greater honor to them that lacked it, so that there should be no division and so that each musician should have equal concern for each other (not only the fiddler). If one instrumentalist is out of pitch, every part suffers. If one musician dominates the band, every part suffers.

Now, you are the Musician’s very own band, and each of you is a part of it! If you really want to excell as musicians, play in a way that is loving. Therefore, play in a way that is loving, play in a way that is encouraging, play in a way that is participatory, and by all means, include the fiddle (1 Cor. 14:40)!

Great parable, Andy!

I like “playing fiddle.” But, you know, even the best fiddle player needs to stop playing regularly and hear other fiddles, and drummers, and flutes, and …


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-23-2009

    A couple of observations:

    One: This story, sadly, is not only a good analogy for what has happened to meetings of the church, but also home made music! Once it was common to know (and play music with) the best fiddler, banjoist, guitarist, or singer in the neighborhood, town, or county. Now there are basically NO fiddlers, banjoists, guitarists, or singers nearby. They all went off to Nashville or Los Angeles or New York (where they aren’t anywhere near the best), while the ones who weren’t good enough sit at home and, no longer inspired by the example of the ones who left, rather than playing music they listen to players far beyond their capabilities on their radios and CDs. And so homemade music is gone.

    Two: Real musicians, no matter what their skill level, know that their real job is not to shine individually, but to do whatever it takes to make the music better. Sometimes this means stepping out front and taking a solo, but not usually; more often it is making subtle contributions that improve the overall sound by encouraging and supporting the other players. Quite often it calls for a player to do nothing at all; some of the best fiddlers and banjoists are totally silent during the singing.

    I think there is great potential for leading a gathering of the saints (mostly untapped) by trading in the role of teacher for that of facilitator, i.e. watching carefully how a meeting unfolds and making just those carefully placed contributions–a comment, a question, a word of encouragement–that will lift the group higher.

  2. 12-23-2009


    Great additions to this parable! Thanks!